The Angels are two and a half games up in the American League West and one of the hottest teams in the league. They seemed poised to glide to another division title and hopefully make a little noise in the post-season for a change... or are they? Well, sorry for being Captain Buzzkill but it looks like the Angels might just be paper champions.
At 52-38 the Angels are the third-best team in the American League, but when they face off against the other top teams in the league, well, that is where things begin to go awry. Against the other .500+ teams in the American League the Halos are but a meager 21-28 possibly foretelling yet another ALDS flameout for the Angels.
Yeah, I know, I'm just being a hater, but you know what? I'm also right. A major reason the Angels have dominated the AL West the last few years is because the rest of the division blows. This year the Rangers and Mariners suddenly aren't terrible anymore and, lo and behold, the Angels actually have a bit of a fight on their hands. The last two seasons the Angels have made their hay by beating up on their AL West brethren (36-21 in 2008 and 32-25 in 2007 vs. AL West) but this year they actually have a losing record in the division (14-17) with a winning record only against the lowly Athletics. So while the team is cruising right now, things might not be so smooth come the final month of the season when the Angels tangle almost exclusively with their divisional rivals. Don't be too surprised if the Angels actually avoid that post-season flop this year, but only because they failed to qualify for the playoffs altogether due to being unable to take care of business against the Rangers and Mariners.
Now, the pragmatist in me can't help but think that time will ultimately prove the Rangers and Mariners aren't as scary as their records suggest either, so it will probably all wash out in the end with the Angels once again winning the division, but I still am not convinced this team is anymore well positioned to make a noise in the post-season than they were in previous years. Their offense has certainly been more balanced than seasons past, but can they perform against elite pitching with the added pressure of the post-season? Already the Halos are coming out on the losing end a majority of the time against the winning teams in the AL which, not so coincidentally, boast the best pitchers too. The Angels have several good but not great bats in their line-up but now that Vladimir Guerrero is a mummy, they have no big scary monster in the line-up (not that Vlad ever did anything in the post-season anyway). They have no one guy who can put the offense on their back when the offense get scarce as it so often does in the post-season. I see no reason to believe that the Angels fortunes will change this year when so little else has changed with the line-up. Sorry, but I am not buying that Kendry Morales, Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera are going to all be able to produce at their current levels against the best of the American League.
As concerned as I am about the Angel offense, I am even more worried about the pitching staff, specifically the Bullpen of Doom. The bullpen has been far less doom-filled these days, but again, that success has been coming against wimpy offenses like Oakland, Baltimore and the NL West. Without adding at least one impact arm, they have virtually no chance of holding a post-season lead against the Red Sox, Rays or Yankees (ok, maybe the Yankees, just because the Angels own them). The bullpen was actually the one major strength that the Angels actually had going for themselves in previous post-seasons but now that strength is a giant weakness begging to be exploited even if they do make a trade.
I would love to be proven wrong about all of this and really I am not even trying to be right but more so issue sort of a public service announcement. Every year we Angel fans talk ourselves into thinking that the team is better than they really are and destined to return to the championship promise land. But this team just isn't all that different. The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So, whatever success the Angels have right now, just take it with a grain of salt or risk ending up in a straitjacket for the third year in a row.